Posts Tagged ‘ksars’

“Tin Hinan” Book II, Chapter 4

April 11, 2012


(courtesy of

LadyNyo A mountain Ksar in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco

I am working to finish this novel by this summer.  A reader can see this chapter is far towards the end, and I hope to conclude in a matter of weeks.  Of course, there is a long period of rewrite, but I can do this. It’s just one key in front of the other.

This chapter is about Tin and Immel and company leaving their mountain ksar.  A ksar is a mountain settlement, usually built into the side of a mountain, and in some regions, a forested mountain.  Some ksars look like beehives.  The lower parts are grainerys and the upper parts are residences.

Over the course of writing this novel, I had to do a lot of research into foods. I was fortunate to know modern day Berbers in Atlanta, and tried to consult them with the issues of ancient grains, foods, etc.  I found that much of what was researched was also eaten today in families, not restaurants.  This is more particular to desert tribes, but today in Morocco much of this food would be recognized in some form.

Thank you to the readers of these chapters of “Tin Hinan” especially those in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the general Middle East.  All misinformation is mine in the writing of this book.

Lady Nyo

Tin Hinan, Chapter 4 of Book II

Although I knew my purpose in returning to the desert, I felt reluctance in leaving our mountain.  The lush meadows, the pastures, the fruit trees and the early-planted fields of millet were a delight to my desert eyes.  Everything was so green and blooming around me, this first spring of my life in the mountains. 

Everything so different from the desert.  The smells were different too, not of the howling winds, but of budding leaves, blossoms of mountain wild flowers, even the soil smelled of life and regeneration.  I would miss the sharp smell of the walnut trees, when I crushed a leaf in my hand and saw the stain appear.  I especially would miss the beautiful apricots, the tender blossoms and the sweet fruit that would fill my mouth like honey.  And I would miss Niefa. She would have calved by the time I returned, and I wanted to be there, to help her in her first labor, and to guide her spindly-legged calf to her nipples.  Immel laughed at me, saying  Niefa would not need my help in this, but Immel was a man. What did he know about birth and especially Niefa?  She was hand raised by me, and would miss my presence as much as I missed her.

Ah, but by Isis, it could not be helped.  I had a purpose for leaving the mountains, and to return to the desert of my birth. I could not forget this.  I must revenge my tribe, my family, the great insult done to them. I must revenge myself by blood.  Each night I prayed silent prayers to Tanit, to Tinjis, and especially to Ifri, the War Goddess. I asked all that I remember my purpose and that my liver be not steered from my destiny.

But we did leave our mountain, and with Takama behind me on a war camel, this big beast who groaned and moaned like a tiny donkey, we came out of the mountains and approached the desert of our journey, the mighty Sahara.  We would cross other mountain ranges, as this route was different and longer than the way Takama and I had taken.  The course of our small caravan was set by the elders and Immel had purpose for this: he was still a raider, and still a mountain Berber, and he would seek the safety of a big caravan to travel with.  We left with only twenty men, but they were all warriors and skilled in fighting.  Perhaps we would increase our caravan’s wealth along the way, but this had only a secondary purpose.  We had a good flock of sheep and goats herded before us and some of these could be traded for salt and other essentials.  These would also make a greater impression on my tribe, though we carried enough booty to do that.  The bales of cottons and silk, hidden amongst the pack camels were something of great wealth, especially to my desert tribe.  There were even some steel needles and knives especially valuable to my tribes.

We didn’t find a caravan after a weeks travel, and had just left a small oasis. We watered the camels and replenished the water bags, when the fierce dogs accompaning us found a den of a desert fox.  A great howl and fury was heard, even by us in the middle of the caravan, and I saw Immel and other men kick and whip their camels to the source of the dog’s turmoil.  They were too late to save the nursing mother and two of her kits, but Immel grabbed two kits from the dogs and held them high over his head, kicking and shouting at the dogs as he did so.  They were only a few weeks old, and Immel hurried back and with a grin, threw them into my lap.  I looked at these tiny, terrified babies and my heart melted.  They were the color of sand, with huge ears, and big black eyes showing their fear.  Takama pushed her paw forward for one and I gave her a kit.  We knew enough, though I hadn’t seen a desert fox in a long time, to cover their heads, as the sun would blind them.  They came out at night, to hunt the rodents, the lizards of the night desert, and slept during the day.  We tucked them in our robes and they whimpered for a while, squirmed and then fell asleep to our heartbeat.  Later one of the men would make a small cage to fit over the cool water bag on the camel and we covered this with cloth.  They were babies, and I wondered if the rich camel’s milk would nourish them, but one of the men, who took a kindness to these babies, said  if we dilute the milk with water, it would do fine.  They also could eat fruit, if we tore it up into small pieces, or chewed it ourselves to a pulp. Within a few hours, they seemed to adjust to our feeding.  Mostly they slept during the day. During the night, they played in our tent, and would dig through the sand, making small burrows as their instinct directed them.  They had a strange yip, and would get into anything  not secured.   Finally, Takama put them under a loose woven basket during the night, as they tried to burrow under the tent.  The dogs outside would have killed them on sight, and we had grown attached in only a few days.  Immel  laughed at me, as I played with them during the evening hours, and said soon I would be replacing these foxes with my own babe to play with.  Perhaps, but that was away in the future, regardless his and his mother’s desire.

We approached another oasis when we spied a small caravan.  Immel and some of the men rode forth and talked with the leaders.  They were Berbers from the East,  travelling part of the way to Morocco.  That night, we joined their larger caravan and pitched our tents apart, which was the usual custom, but we slaughtered two goats and brought dates and salt to a shared dinner.  These Berbers were nomads, who came from pastures with great herds of sheep and goats. They were driving them as trade to the west.  They were very much like my parent’s tribe, wearing some of the same woven cloth and colors I was familiar with.  Of course, I did not ask any questions, as to my tribe, but Immel did find out that there had been wars and raiding to the west.  Information was vague enough but I could only wonder if Hasim and his tribe had been involved.  There were many tribes, and many raiders, some of them the hated Arabs, but I knew little of the world.  Now, from my position in the Spirit World, I know much more of history.  Then, as I said, I knew little.

Their women were like women everywhere. The young ones were shy, the older ones suspicious, and the few elderly on the caravan were wiser than all else.  Of course we sat together, as women would want to do, and exchanged gossip and some minor gifts. We ate their dishes with great relish, as Takama and I were not the best of cooks.  Our porridge was plain and only filled our bellies, but their dishes were so much better for not being made by us. 

Though we found our food was of a common kind, their taguella, a flat bread made from millet and cooked on charcoals in the sand, was eaten with a heavy sauce of spices and dried fruit.  They had yogurt, made along the route, by pouring goat’s milk into large skins and letting it ferment in the sun.  The roll of a camel’s pace stirred it nicely, and the essence of the leather bag contributed a smoky taste to the yogurt.  Ah! Their eghajira was the best I had ever tasted! For those who have had inferior drink,  it is a thick beverage drunk with a ladle, made by pounding millet, goat cheese, dates, dried apricots, camel’s milk and honey. Of course, there was lamb on a spit over the fire and gunpowder tea, sweetened with mint and honey.  Our mouths were greasy with the food and our bellies full. 

 Just when I saw Takama’s eyes close with sleep and mine doing the same, the sound of the rehad floated towards us. Soon bendirs, drums, added their rhythm to the one-stringed fiddle. An ajonuag, the reed flute joined the music,  and a woman started to sing., a strange song half way between a moan and a melody.

Some of the women got up to dance,  holding  large  walnut shells  in their hands, like castanets, as they added their own music to the night.  Stomping their bare feet in the cooling sand, tossing their long hair in circles, they would scare or entice a Zar in the desert night with their wild beauty!

There is nothing so mystical on earth as the sound of music in the desert. It floats like a benediction over the day. The night time air seems to draw forth the beauty of the voice and the pathos of life. Though it was not a song I knew, it didn’t matter.  Our lives, our souls, were of the same material, and we went to our tents late that night feeling cradled in the knowledge  wherever we were, we Berbers were part of the great stream of humanity and never alone in the world.

 Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

TIN HINAN, Chapter 6, Part 1

September 9, 2009

Berber Woman from around 1910 dressed in tribal jewelry

Berber Woman from around 1910 dressed in tribal jewelry

A Berber Ksar in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

A Berber Ksar in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

(This is a long chapter, so it will be posted in two parts)

Chapter Six

The next morning the men rose before dawn, excited to be going home and proud of the booty they carried. Joking and calling out to each other, they scurried to break camp.  Camels bellowed  and horses shied at the turmoil. Only the pack mules waited patiently for their burdens.

“Takama”, I called, looking around for the girl.  Usually underfoot, this morning she was talking to a man.  Ah! I would whip her soundly for her immodesty!

“I am here, Aicha.  I was only trying to find out when we would be in the mountains.”

“You will be there fast enough.  Have you no fear?  These men are not our tribe.  You still could be plunder.”

I scowled at her and her face showed fear.  Good.  Let her think before she talked to men again.

Takama and I dressed in our tribe’s red and white striped djellaba while I carefully secured the scarf around my shorn head.  Takama unpacked some of my jewelry, and placed a silver coined circlet on my forehead.  She insisted I wear more of my jewelry to appear noble.  I might be a prisoner, but I was not a slave.

Immel Uzmir bullied and cajoled his tribesmen into some sort of readiness.  He rode to where Takama and I were mounted, she on her donkey, and I on Niefa. His horse was a fine large beast, prancing with spirit.  Immel Uzmir slapped his neck to quiet him, and looked at us appraisingly. His horse twisted around and tried to break into a run, but he pulled him up short. Immel Uzim smiled a great, toothy grin, his veil not yet secured over his mouth, as his eyes swept us both.  Then, with a hard kick to the horse’s flanks, he flew to the front of the caravan.  The camels were bellowing, complaining loudly, and the men were using their sticks to beat the stubborn mules into a walk.

We plodded for a couple of hours across that lush valley, passing  groves of walnuts and apricots. Some shepherds tending their flocks of goats and sheep waved and shouted, recognizing the men. We came to a river half way across the valley, and had to forge its waters, though it wasn’t deep.  Water came to the breasts of the camels, though the smaller mules had to swim, helped along by men on the larger horses.  There were a couple of packs lost in the river, but they were retrieved with effort.

We were in a wide valley, placed between two mountain ranges. The weather was cold at this altitude.  I wished I had unpacked my heavier wool robe. I looked back at Takama on her donkey.  She was a slave, but she rode with dignity, her head held high, her nose disdainfully up in the air.  I wondered how long she would hold that position.  We had a long way to go across the valley.

We continued onward  for no one wanted to stop for a midday meal in their haste to get home.  A scout had been sent ahead early that morning. He should arrive well ahead of the caravan.  By then the tribe, warned of our approach, would have slaughtered goats and sheep for a welcoming feast.  I was hungry, for breakfast was, again, a handful of dates and a gourd of water.  No one had time to milk a camel.

We crossed to the second half of the valley, and although far away, I could see structures on the side of the mountain.  They were mountain ksars as Immel Uzmir explained.  His tribe did not live in the rough, woven goat hair tents as we desert Berbers did, but built stone one-story houses and mud granaries.   This would be very different from what we were used to.  Although I tried to maintain an aloof manner, conscious I would appear no more than a part of the plunder, I was excited.  I did not know the measure of my fate but I was curious and fearful at the same time.

The caravan made its way towards the forest at the foot of the mountain.  As we cleared an orchard of walnut trees, I could see the mass of buildings dotting the face of the mountain.   Arranged up the side, they were like beehives, plastered mud structures. These were the granaries and storage rooms.  People lived in one story stone houses, built wherever there was flat ground, but farther up the mountain amongst walnut orchards. Some lived, I was told later, in rooms hollowed out of the mountain, and these rooms were cool in the summer and warm enough in winter.

As we came closer, I saw young boys run out to greet and bedevil the men as young boys do.  They hung on the mules and pulled on the packs and dodged the whips of their fathers and uncles.  They yelled and chortled and danced in excitement.  Then, floating over the valley, that fierce ululation of Berber women made the hair of my arms stand up.  They were welcoming home their men, each hoping her beloved was amongst the returning.

We pulled into a large courtyard, a great cacophony of sound from the camels, men, women and children. There was a line of elders standing apart from the general milling chaos.  These were the men who would pass judgement on our future.  Niefa, to her honor, stood quietly, while I sat stiffly on her back.  I was not a part of the welcome, for these people were strangers and most probably my masters now.  Whether I would be seen as a spoil of a raid and therefore just a slave, was up to the Gods. I hoped desperately Takama and I would not be separated.  She was the only touchstone I had to my past.

Amongst the noise and confusion, I saw men and women come to where Immel Uzmir had slipped off his horse.  He was embraced by an older woman, probably his mother, and several younger ones, possibly his kinswomen.  I did not know if he had any wives for it would have been not proper to discuss this. The line of elders moved to embrace him and welcome him home.  Clearly he was an important man.

I looked around at Takama and smiled weakly in encouragement. She looked scared.   She was unsure of her future and had no reason for optimism. She was only a slave, had known only kindness from our tribe. Although we were treated fairly during the caravan, coming into the ksar could prove a different fate.

“Aicha…Aicha”, whispered Takama as she drew close to Niefa.   “What do you think will happen to us? Did you see how their dwellings cling to the mountain side?  Aeeeiiii! How will we ever walk those hills?”

“Do I look like a smelly, old fortune teller, girl?  You keep asking questions and I have no answers. Just be patient.  Perhaps you will find a husband by some fire, eh?”

“Oh, Aicha!  Don’t scare me.  These men are not our people. They just look like our tribe.  They could be very cruel, what do we know yet?”

“Yes, stupid girl.  What do we know?  They haven’t roasted us at their fires, they haven’t fed us to mountain wolves and we still have our fingers and toes.  Be patient, Takama, or I will have to beat you.”

I was anxious myself, and just wanted quiet.  My liver was uneasy, for I had not only led myself into uncertainty, but another soul.  I was responsible for Takama, even though she was but a slave.  The Gods would still hold me accountable  for her keeping.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

“Tin Hinan” Chapter 6, the rest of it.

January 14, 2009

Immel’s plump old mother led me through the large courtyard and up many stone steps to a small plateau where a single story stone house stood under the shade of a small olive grove. There were goats and dogs laying in the shade under those trees. Well-pounded dirt made up the area in front of the house, and we entered the low doorway into a room where it was cool and darkened. After the heat and light of the afternoon, this was a welcomed relief.

I blinked for a few moments, trying to get my eyes to adjust to the dim light. When they did, I saw stone and adobe shelves surrounding the room, like benches on the walls. There were rugs on the stone floor and some wooden chests along the walls I supposed contained clothes and precious stuffs, and also a small cloth loom. Along a wall there was a cubbyhole with a large flat stone in front of it. Later I would be told this was what they called a fire-place, to heat the room in winter. The mountain was cold during the winter months and most of the rain of the year fell before spring. All cooking was done outside in front of the house, using the fire-place during the worst of the weather. I had never seen such a thing, in fact, I had never been in a house. The tents I was born in were sufficient for our desert environment.

As Immel Uzmir’s mother was pulling the covering from the one deep set window, he came in, stooping to clear the low doorway. He was followed by Takama, carrying our packs from our beasts. She looked around silently, amazed at the new environment.

Even though the room was large, Immel Uzmir seemed to fill it. He was a tall man, made taller indoors by the height of the ceiling. He addressed his mother first, and I could not follow their strange dialect. He obviously was talking of me, for his eyes glanced over to where I was standing. His mother either nodded or shook her head, and also glanced in my direction. They spoke very fast, and even if I knew their dialect, I still would have trouble discerning what was spoken.

Finally he addressed me as Takama followed his mother to another room.

“The elders have yet to decide where you are to be placed, but for now, you and your woman will stay with my parents. There is room enough here and since my wife died, there is only my son to live here with my father and mother. You will help her with the chores, and you will be a relief to her as her bones are old. She climbs these stairs each day with the water and wood for the cooking fire.”

Then without another word, he turned and stooped low to get himself out the door. His mother returned and motioned for me to follow. There were a couple of rooms that stretched out across the face of the house. They were small rooms but each had rugs on the stone floors. As we passed through the first one, there were baskets, carved wooden bread bowls and trenchers, bags of grain and a couple of large clay jars that probably contained oil for cooking. Leila led us through another room, and then another, and there I saw Takama had placed our packs from our animals. A bed was made up with folded rugs and quilts for us to sleep together, and it looked inviting. I nodded and smiled shyly at Immel’s mother and she clucked like a mother hen. She smiled, and her grin revealed that she was toothless. She left us, and Takama and I sat on the low bed and quietly talked together.

“At least we are safe, Aicha.” Takama was still nervous, but wiggled closer to me, her only comfort in this strange environment.

“For now, it seems, but who knows what tomorrow will bring? Perhaps they will sell us off as slaves to another tribe. Only the Goddesses know or care, and maybe not even that.”

Takama eyes got wide at my blasphemy. “Oh, Mistress! Don’t dare them to make our lot even worse! We have a bed from the rain and cold, and we have the comfort of their fire and food. At least we are not amongst the wolves in the mountains.”

“No, silly girl. We are still amongst the wolves on a mountain. Just two-legged wolves and a different mountain.”

My words brought a nervous giggle from Takama. “Do you think they will really sell us to another tribe?”

“You heard the elder, they want women for their sons, and grandchildren. Perhaps you will find yourself a husband, if you don’t act foolish and behave like a proper woman.”

“Oh Aicha, do you think this is to be our fate? That we are to live amongst these mountain people and the Goddesses were really listening to your prayers? Do you think this is their answer?” Takama wriggled closer to me on the bed, and started taking off my heavy jewelry. There was no reason for it now, and it would be better for me not to wear it among curious eyes.

“Well, girl, if this is their answer, they weren’t attending to my words carefully. This is not what I envisioned for my plight.”

“But Aicha, what if this was their answer, their true answer, and they meant for you and I to settle here. What if they wanted you to find a husband, to forget your revenge against your intended, what if –“

“Shut your mouth, you hurtful girl!” I was getting angry with Takama. “Do the Goddesses forget that my family has been shamed, that I have been disgraced? What recourse have they given me? I will avenge my tribe’s shame. Surely even a foolish desert girl, who knows so little, can understand this?”

Takama just nodded and shut up. I think she was thinking about a future husband for she was at that age, and thought constantly about those things. I had seen her, along our many days in the desert, in deep thought, and perhaps it was at first the shock of leaving her family, but then, her mood seemed to brighten a bit. We were on an adventure, both of us for different reasons, but both of us with some expectations for the future. Mine was wrapped up in thoughts of revenge, and hers? Only Takama would know, and her silent goddesses.

After a while, Immel’s mother came back and called us to follow her. The feasting would begin, and men had come into the courtyard. We saw platters of food set on rugs on the ground. We could hear the sounds of music, and recognized some of the instruments.

The bendir, a frame drum common to our own tribe, was beating softly somewhere under the eaves of the wooden structure that ran along one side of the large courtyard. There, on low benches, under the soft lighting of torches, were the elder men of the tribe, sitting and talking softly amongst themselves. Early darkness had already fallen, for the afternoon had disappeared when we were in Immel’s house. The air had grown chilly. I pulled my tribe’s djellaba around my body and was glad it was made of wool.

Immel’s mother Leila led us to the women’s section, where they sat on benches, chatting and laughing and discussing what the raiders had brought home. As we approached, all talk ceased, and the women stared at us with curiosity. Immel’s mother motioned for us to sit on a rug, and she said something to the group of women nearest to her. They erupted in laughter, and I knew it was about us. But being well-bred young women, we knew to keep our eyes cast down until we were addressed. As strangers, we would only be expected to answer questions and not to engage in the general conversation. We had no status amongst them, or what we had was still undecided. Tomorrow our fate could change and we could be sold as slaves to whatever tribe was nearby. For tonight, we silently prayed that our bellies would be filled and our sleep undisturbed.

I was addressed by one of the elderly women and I lifted my eyes to her face. She was a wrinkled old crone, but obviously had status for she wore a heavy silver necklace and large silver discs in a chain over the headscarf.

“How old are you, my daughter?” Her voice was flat sounding, not like the musical notes of our desert tribe.

“I am eighteen, Mother,” I answered.

“Why were you in the mountains alone, except for your woman? Were you running away from your husband? You are young to be alone. Where is your tribe?”

I thought how I should answer her. Respect would have to be shown, for the women of a tribe can make your life miserable if you hold yourself above the general chatter and gossip. I knew this all too well from the behavior of my own kinswomen. Any answer except the truth would be found out. There is not much that goes on in a tribe, between tents, that is not intimately known by the old women. All tribes would be the same, for women are the life blood of any gathering.

“My tribe, Mother, is three full moons from here. My woman and I set out across the desert to answer the demands of the Goddess.” I thought that would satisfy her and for a few minutes, it did.

“But what Goddess talked to you? Was it Isis or Tanit that you prayed to?” Old women can be nosey and this one definitely was.

“I prayed to all of them, Mother.” I thought that she would chew on this for a while, but I was wrong.

“What troubles could such a young girl have that she would pray to all of them?”

Ah, this nosy old mother would not let me rest. Her questions had drawn the curiosity of the other women. General conversation had stopped and I knew my answers would become part of the general gossip later.

I breathed out a deep sigh and cast my eyes down. Well, perhaps they would leave me in peace if I gave them what women love best: more gossip.

“Mother”, I began slowly, my voice barely above a whisper. “I was to be married, the contract was made and the gifts delivered. Right before the marriage ceremony, my intended went to live in the tent of another.”

There is nothing women love better than stories of betrayal and thwarted love! A general sigh went up from those listening, here and there a muted wail, and one woman reached over and patted my knee. We Berber women are known for our storytelling and we love to weave tales of love and poems of our love-misery. I should have locked up my tongue but we all like an audience of sympathetic women. Plus, I needed their kindness for Takama and I were strangers and that is reason enough to appeal to a mother’s concern. I had the advantage of many mothers listening to my words of woe.

Warming to my tale, I told them of my collapse and senselessness for three days. How my kinswomen took such good care of me, spooning broth into my mouth, and how my cheeks grew chapped with my tears. I spoke of how my mother would not allow me to leave her bed, but fearful of my love- madness, made me sleep in her arms like her last child.

I told them all how I went into the desert for nights and prayed and exhorted the Goddesses, Ifri, Isis, Tanit and others to give me a sign of what to do. I knew the insult given to my tribe would draw us into war.

Ah! I was quite carried away with emotion, and if I had stopped to think about it, there was more anger and hurt in my words than what I was now willing to admit. I even pulled back my head scarf and revealed my shorn locks, and a shocked exclamation went up from the listeners. Suddenly, I heard Takama groan and sob, for my words quite over came her.

“What she speaks is only the truth!” Takama spoke through her sobs and would add to my misery. “Our tribe is not as large as her false love, and if we went to war with his tribe, there would be much killing of our kinsmen. My mistress sacrificed herself for her great love of her people, and in a state of madness, which was given as courage by the Goddesses, she cut off her beautiful hair that came down to her buttocks and asking the forgiveness of her father, she rode into the desert as the Goddesses commanded.”

Now I can laugh at Takama’s words, for when we had left, there were no commands from any Goddesses. I had grown angry at their silence and cursed them and Hasim equally. That was not necessary to relate to these women. A number of them, the younger ones, openly sobbed and threw their shawls over their faces in grief at my tale. By now, all the women were listening to Takama’s words and I had to pinch her to get her to stop. God knows only what else my loyal Takama would have said, for we are a people who enjoy an embellished story.

From that night, the women of this mountainous tribe embraced us, and welcomed us as all women with livers would do. We ate well of the mutton and goat and even drank watered wine, for these people had cultivated a wild grape that was sweet in the mouth.

The welcoming of the men and their prizes went on for hours, but whether it was the wine or our exhaustion, Takama and I fell asleep where we sat. Perhaps it was the music of the sweet ajonag flute and the bendir drum that pulled us to sleep. Only later did we wake and neither of us recalled the climb up the stone steps to the house of Immel Uzmir. We fell on our bed, Takama and I, without removing our clothes, and we slept like the dead.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2007, 2009

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